After I went vegan in August 2000, I became much more aware of not only what I eat, wear, and use, but also of what other people consume. Many times I have glimpsed over the shoulders of coworkers to see what they brought for lunch that day, or asked people walking by where they bought their non-leather shoes. I ask so many questions at restaurants that I feel obliged to leave the server larger tips than I usually would. If a friend is unsure about the "vegan-ness" of a dish that she has prepared, I will go through her refrigerator or cabinets to find the food item in question. I've even been known to rummage through the trash to find an ingredient list.
Really, it's not the fault of the restaurant worker or my friend that they're not sure whether a dish is vegan; animal ingredients can show up in the most unlikely of foods. Being vegan almost requires investigation into any new product. I have found cochineal in fruit juice, gelatin in breath mints, and even whey in dishwashing detergent.
For the first couple of months that I was vegan I spent hours in the grocery store carefully reading labels. It was discouraging at first. Slowly I learned which animal ingredients to look out for, which brands are "safe" to buy, and which restaurants are vegan-friendly. Sure, it took a little "snooping," but it's worth it to live such a compassionate and healthy lifestyle.
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